Tag: UWE Bristol

Public inquiries: a way to draw a line in the sand, or avoid accountability?

When gross negligence occurs in a hospital or a public organisation is suspected of acting inappropriately in a murder investigation, the victims’ families often want to hold someone accountable. For them, public inquiries are a chance for those responsible to apologise. Dr James Murphy from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) researches the language used in public inquiries and the role blame plays in them. He has discovered that the victims’ loved ones do not always get the outcome they expected.

Over a six-month period in 2007 and 2008, more than 30 people died in three hospitals in an area of Northern Ireland as a result of an outbreak of the hospital-acquired infection Clostridium difficile. The bacterium also infected several other patients, making them severely ill. It later emerged that poor hygiene and lack of information for patients and their families meant the infection was not contained in one part of the hospital. A subsequent public inquiry was set up to find out why this happened.

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Dr James Murphy, who is senior lecturer in English language and linguistics at UWE Bristol, researches how such public inquiries are conducted, how blame is attributed, and how apologies are expressed. He has examined the C. difficile case, and other public inquiries such as the Bichard Report (which asked why the necessary background checks were not made before a school employed Ian Huntley as a caretaker – he later murdered two 10-year-old girls).

In the case of the hospital-acquired infection, the inquiry invited two distinct groups of witnesses: the blameless family members of the victims, and a second group of hospital staff who were potentially blameable for the spread of the infection. Murphy assessed the linguistic aspect of the questioning. Although he expected that the hospital employees would be interrogated in the same way as defendants in a criminal court, and that family members would be treated like friendly witnesses, he found the opposite happened.

Instead, family members (often still in trauma) were questioned with closed, leading questions, similar to prosecution questioning in court. This, says Murphy, was simply so that the inquiry could confirm facts in the case. Meanwhile investigators asked hospital staff open, less-restricted questions. Murphy says this was to gather more evidence to help the inquiry identify who was responsible.

The academic has also learned that public inquiries are framed in a way that shies away from blaming anybody. “A lot of families expect someone to take responsibility for what they have suffered,” explains Murphy. “However public inquiries are not necessarily allowed to blame anyone.” He explains that blame is often more implicit in inquiries, which by highlighting lessons learned, imply that someone did something wrong and is potentially to blame.

Apologies are also invariably avoided in such investigations, finds Murphy. “When people are asked to apologise, they often have a carefully crafted statement demonstrating sympathy or regret, without taking responsibility,” he explains. “On the whole in inquiries, people don’t apologise because they fear that, in doing so, they risk public litigation,” says the linguistics expert.

Murphy also found that those who could be blamed, usually do a lot of preparation work on how to deliver their answers before attending a public inquiry. “There is a lot of rehearsal beforehand,” he says. Families, on the other hand, are often less clear about what to expect.

In fact, Murphy’s most striking discovery is the disconnect between family members’ expectations from a public inquiry and what they get at the end. “They see it as a line in the sand whereby they can discover who was responsible and can then move on,” says the academic. However, the reports they receive after the process are too often legalistic, hard to read, and careful about how they frame the findings. “The families want a direct and straightforward result, but what they get is something indirect and implicit,” he explains. This can sometimes leave them feeling like there has been a cover-up, says Murphy.

To address the issues in public inquiries, James Murphy is writing a book, due out in 2018, called, ‘The Discursive Construction of Blame: Language at Public Inquiries.’ The academic hopes it will influence policy and positively impact how public inquiry reporting can be improved and how victims and their families can better prepare for their involvement in proceedings.

Says Murphy: “Public inquiries are a strong representation of our democracy. Historically we might have lynched somebody we thought was to blame, but public inquiries represent the rational end of blame and is the endpoint of how we’ve developed as a society.”

Alan Winfield – paving the way for ethical robots

Alan Winfield – paving the way for ethical robots

Man before machine

Professor Alan Winfield is a roboticist, a roboethicist, but above all he is a humanist. “I am of course interested in robots but I’m much more interested in people,” says Alan.

An academic at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Alan researches cognitive robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), alongside his responsibilities for teaching, writing (including a blog) and public engagement.

One of his current projects aims to help companies avoid sending employees into dangerous environments. Along with project lead Manchester University and partner Birmingham University, he and his colleagues are designing robots to help decommission Britain’s legacy nuclear power plants in the hope of returning them to green field sites.

“When we can build robots that go into old nuclear facilities to explore, map, and dismantle them, we can potentially also develop robots that can go into other dangerous environments such as collapsed buildings after an earthquake or deep mines,” says Alan. Ultimately, this work could save people’s lives.

Over the last two decades, the roboticist has looked at how robots can be intelligent and he is working on a book on the nature of intelligence. It is perhaps his reflection on cognitive robotics that has also made him a roboethicist, someone who thinks about the governance frameworks that should determine how robots are designed, built and operated.

“A roboethicist is someone who makes it their job to worry about the possible societal, economic and environmental consequences of robotics and AI [artificial intelligence],” says Alan. Today, half of his working hours are devoted to roboethics.

An ethical framework for robot design

Although a self-professed optimist, one of Alan’s main worries about the future of robots and AI technology concerns the current lack of regulation and standards. He cites the example of driverless car autopilots. Although certain car manufacturers have undoubtedly tested their systems, they have not done so to any agreed national or international standards, says the scientist. “The world urgently needs safety standards for driverless car autopilots, as well as agencies to certify their safety and investigate when there is a crash – these don’t yet exist,” explains Alan.

International guidelines are also scarce around designing AI and intelligent robots ethically, and Alan is working hard to change this. As a member of the British Standards Institute (BSI) committee, he helped draft what could possibly be the world’s first ethical standard in robotics. Published in 2016, it addresses risks to individuals, society, and the environment. “I am very proud of our work on this,” says Alan, “as it provides a robot designer with a toolkit for assessing the ethical risks associated with what they are doing.”

Alan is also a member of the executive committee leading the IEEE Standards Association’s global initiative on ethical design of AI and autonomous systems. Within this initiative, he co-chairs the General Principles Committee, which is developing high-level principles applying to all AI and autonomous systems such as driverless cars, drones, medical diagnosis AIs, or even search engines. These principles propose that such systems should not infringe human rights, and that their functioning should be transparent. “The idea is to bake ethics in from the very beginning of the design process,” Alan explains.

The IEEE initiative published in December 2016 a draft set of ethical principles called ‘Ethically-aligned Design’, with the aim of advancing a public discussion of how intelligent technologies can be aligned to ethical principles that prioritize human wellbeing. To date, seven standards have spun out of the IEEE initiative and are now in development.

Awareness of ethics through education

Another way of embedding this sense of responsibility in robot designers is through education. In 2015, UWE Bristol began offering a module on the ethics of technology for its robotics and philosophy students. The reasoning behind this move is to encourage engineers to consider the ethical implications of their work, and invite philosophers to think about the practical impact and applicability of ethics on technology.

Overall, Alan believes robotics and AI have already brought many advantages to our lives. The BRL is working on a wide range of beneficial applications, such as assisted living robots that could help the elderly in their homes, robots to assist with keyhole surgery, and work place assistant robots to act as work mates in manufacturing. His advice to budding roboticists is clear: “Do good and always do work that is to the benefit of humanity, rather than purely to satisfy scientific curiosity or to make money.”

How funding through UWE Bristol helped a panel manufacturer turn ideas into reality

Thanks to an Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) government grant made available by way of UWE Bristol, Gilcrest Manufacturing was able to develop an extremely strong ceiling panel for use on cold storage rooms and other enclosed areas such as hygienic environments. In this video, the company’s Engineering Manager Stephen Griffiths explains how the funding, as well as support from UWE Bristol, was critical in bringing the project to fruition.

The post-Brexit silver lining: how working with SMEs could provide a springboard to export

Originally posted in Business Leader Magazine

Far from Brexit creating a sense of doom and gloom for SMEs wanting to export, leaving the EU could provide opportunities to sell to emerging markets. That, at least is the view of two economists who are setting up a project to bridge the gap between SMEs and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which provide a link between local authorities and businesses.

Catherine Cai, who is senior lecturer in Strategy and International Management at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) said: “We are trying to see the silver lining of Brexit and there a lot of opportunities for SMEs to export to non-EU countries, but they need support.

“The LEPs provide a network for SMEs to meet and learn from each other and this is very important, because most of these firms don’t have experience of exporting to countries like China or India.”

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Along with colleague Dr Rekha Nicholson from Newcastle University London, which is leading the project, Cai is in the planning stages of an activity involving work with two LEPs.

Cai says SMEs in the UK often think locally and either tend not to think about exporting or, if they do, invariably consider European countries. Exporting to emerging markets like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is still quite a new idea.

By developing working practices with the LEPs and providing workshops in the South West, the economists plan to help businesses think about how to penetrate and position themselves in these new markets. Their knowledge will also help companies understand the logistics of exporting and how to protect their intellectual property rights.

The project is set to begin at the end of 2017 and, initially lasting one year, will focus on two industries: creative and manufacturing.

Reducing bad breath: how 20 years of research have helped us better understand halitosis

Reducing bad breath: how 20 years of research have helped us better understand halitosis

A researcher at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has devoted her work to a subject that some might find unpleasant or embarrassing: bad breath. Over the past two decades, Dr Saliha Saad and colleagues have tried to pinpoint the mechanisms behind oral malodour, also called halitosis, and how best to reduce it.  

A link between the biofilm on our tongue and oral malodour

While bad breath can be the result of eating strong-smelling foods like eggs, a meat morsel caught between the teeth, or gum disease, these lead only to temporary oral malodour. Dr Saad’s research examines more long-lasting, chronic halitosis in people who, despite living a healthy lifestyle with good oral hygiene, experience the symptom on a regular basis.

We humans carry 1.5kg of microbes, also called human microbiota, on the inside and outside of our bodies, found on our skin, in our intestines and in our mouths. At the back of the tongue is a biofilm, a collection of millions of bacteria within a thin, robust protective coating (which the bacteria excrete). Although researchers are still trying to identify all the possible causes of halitosis, they believe this film of microbes is responsible for oral malodour. “Our theory is that the more bacteria on our tongues, the higher the instance of smelly compounds found in our breath,” says Saad.

Through her research with Professor John Greenman, Dr Saad has learned that people with oral malodour may have it their entire lives. As a result, Saad and her team have worked with Colgate Palmolive, Philips, GSK, Procter & Gamble, Healthcare International, Boots, GABA and other oral hygiene companies to help them develop more effective toothpastes, mouthwashes or cleaning devices. “Brushing and flossing can reduce bad breath for a certain amount of time, but the challenge is to cut bad breath for longer. Our job is to show these companies whether their product has a longer lasting effect on oral malodour,” explains Saad.

Testing products that counteract bad breath

To try to achieve this, the researchers test anti-microbial samples the companies send them using a biofilm perfusion system. This involves gently scraping volunteers’ tongues to obtain the collection of microbes, before injecting the resulting liquid onto cellulose, a material that best represents the surface of a tongue. A fluid almost identical to saliva is then slowly drip-fed onto the biofilm to emulate the environment (including pH and temperature) found in a human mouth.

Once the bacteria reaches a steady state, the scientists inject controlled amounts of the unlabelled oral hygiene sample onto the microbes. “These products are invariably a type of toothpaste but we often don’t know what active ingredients they contain,” says Saad. The process of reduction in bacteria and smell is then measured over time.

Following this in vitro testing, the scientists conduct clinical trials by asking some 150 volunteers to test toothpastes or other oral hygiene products such as mouthwashes. The intensity of their malodorous breath is assessed both before and after the treatment using a SIFT-MS machine. The device uses a technique called ion flow-tube mass spectrometry to ‘smell’ the breath by providing a breakdown of the gases contained within it. “Generally the most odorous gases are the sulphides,” explains Saad.

Because machines and other measuring devices can sometimes be inaccurate, Saad herself also smells the volunteers’ breath. As a qualified organoleptic judge, she can categorise the odour by intensity and unpleasantness according to a set technique and scale. The participants are then provided with a toothpaste or mouthwash to test, with Saad checking their breath in the subsequent hours. Test results are subsequently analysed and sent on to the oral hygiene companies concerned.

UWE Bristol is unique in that it provides a course to train scientists to become organoleptic judges with Saad as their trainer. By the end of the five-day course the professionals, who are from all over the world, learn to use the sniffing test to diagnose oral malodour and assess the effects of treatment interventions in their own practices.

As for those who suddenly recognise that they have momentary smelly breath, perhaps just as they are about to walk into an interview, Saad proffers her advice for quick remedy. “Gently brush the back of your tongue,” says Saad. “But be careful not to damage it because if you brush too hard you could cause injury and infection.”

UWE Bristol & TechSPARK: Showcasing innovation

UWE Bristol & TechSPARK: Showcasing innovation

UWE Bristol has partnered with TechSpark to showcase some of our most innovative technology projects and research.

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In the latest guest blog, we look at Dr Tom Mitchell’s electronic gloves that can be programmed for performing musicians to trigger sounds and virtual instruments using hand and arm movements.

Visit TechSpark’s website to read more about the Mi.Mu gloves and Dr Mitchell’s involvement in the technology.

How a grandfather inspired a fascination for the human mind

How a grandfather inspired a fascination for the human mind

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at Anita Gulati’s research on mindfulness and its role in enabling creative, sustainable leadership and re-enforcing resilience. Gulati works at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and is Associate Director of its Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC). She says her grandfather’s story has served as inspiration in her work.

Harbans Lall Gulati came to the UK as an Indian immigrant in the 1920s and hearing about his life has helped Anita Gulati understand why she is so interested in mindfulness and meditation. “Despite working as a doctor in a busy practice in London, every day my grandfather used to close his consultation room door for 20 minutes to meditate. I discovered this recently and it gave me a very strong sense of connection to my ancestors,” says Ms Gulati.

Her aunt, Dr Meira Chand, who recently took up yoga aged 75 ­-­ three years after completing a PhD – is now writing a novel about Harbans. Ms Gulati believes that if there were ever an example of resilience in the face of adversity, it is to be found in the story of his life.

After completing his medical training in the land of his birth, Harbans emigrated to England with the intention of working as a doctor. On arrival, he walked all the way from Liverpool Docks to London and slept in Hyde Park, only to discover that his medical qualifications were not recognised in the UK. He repeated his training at Charing Cross Hospital, and eventually requalified. The colour of his skin, however, resulted in him being shunned when looking for premises in which to practise medicine. This challenge was overcome thanks to a Jewish jeweller in Battersea Rise who let him use part of his shop as a consultation room.

Throughout the Second World War Harbans served the local community, treating the injured and assisting the poor, eventually helping to set up Meals on Wheels (the service that today still delivers meals to those who cannot cook for themselves). He also became involved in local politics, becoming a councillor for Battersea South ­– a rare occurrence for someone from South Asia in those days.

Inspiration from her grandfather and her experience as a sociologist and psychologist has ignited in Ms Gulati an interest to know more about mindfulness, a form of meditation involving focusing on the present moment. “It is perhaps my grandfather’s tale that inspired my passion for the human mind,” says the researcher. Gulati and her colleagues are now exploring why mindfulness seems to help people deal with life’s stresses, how it can sometimes make us more resilient, especially as leaders, and why alongside the notion of leadership, it has become an increasingly important concept.

Three years ago, Ms Gulati attended a conference on the neuroscience of mindfulness and scientific impact, where she met Dr Peter Malinowski after he gave a talk on the mind and meditation. “I have since been collaborating with him and Dr Carol Jarvis (UWE Bristol) to explore the role of mindfulness in compassionate and resilient leadership,” says Ms Gulati.

The three researchers have found that, in today’s uncertain world, the fastest does not always win the race (as shown in Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, believed to date back some 2.5 millennia). This idea seems to have lost currency in contemporary organisations and their research explores the challenge of learning from, and injecting some ancient wisdom into, contemporary organisational settings. “As my grandfather perhaps discovered, stopping to ‘smell the roses’ rather than rushing to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ can impact organisational sustainability and resilient leadership,” says Gulati. “We are exploring how this works and assessing the creative tension that may emerge from this juxtaposition,” she adds.

Making a difference to emergency care

Making a difference to emergency care

Professor Jonathan Benger wears many hats and works long hours. He is a consultant in the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of a Bristol hospital, overseeing junior doctors and attending to patients. He also works for the South Western Ambulance Service (he helped to found the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity), and is involved with policy and strategy for NHS England. The rest of his seven-day working week involves one and a half days’ research at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

Over the past decade, Benger has helped establish UWE Bristol as a focus for emergency and critical care research, particularly around pre-hospital care. As a result, his and his colleagues’ academic work has a genuine impact on what is going on in the real world and improves the health of individuals.

Managing a patient’s airway after a cardiac arrest

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Professor Jonathan Benger

What work is he most proud of so far? The research study Airways-2, a collaboration with UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol’s Clinical Trials & Evaluation Unit, on how to manage a patient’s airway in the early stages of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Some 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating suddenly) outside of hospital in the UK every year, and one of the internationally recognised unanswered questions about this condition is how best to manage the patient’s airway. “Historically we’ve put a breathing tube in the patient’s windpipe, but some data suggests it might be harmful to do so at an early stage, and it is unclear why,” says Professor Benger. Newer devices sit at the back of the throat and provide oxygen, so he and his colleagues are testing the two alternatives to see which approach works best.

“This is a huge trial that people said couldn’t be done because it’s so hard to deliver,” he says, but the researchers first secured a quarter of a million pounds to carry out a feasibility study, before receiving a further £2m to conduct the full trial. This means that as many as half of all patients who have a cardiac arrest out of hospital in some areas of England are likely to end up in the study. The researchers will publish results in 2018, and these could have a huge impact internationally. The Professor believes his team will answer the question of how best to treat cardiac arrest victims at the scene in a way that is likely to change the guidelines for resuscitation worldwide.

Redesigning ambulances for greater efficiency

Another research project close to Benger’s heart is his involvement in the redesign of the interior of ambulances currently used in the UK. Over the years, paramedics have gradually needed more material in the emergency vehicle, with treatment frequently taking place in the ambulance itself. When paramedics are providing care in situ, time can be at a premium and an efficient configuration of medical instruments and drugs can save time, and reduce the risk of an infection spreading.

Professor Benger and his colleagues therefore teamed up with the Royal College of Art to design a new ambulance from scratch. The challenge was to create something within limited space that maximises capacity for treatment and optimises layout. To do this, the researchers ran scenarios in the ambulance to observe how paramedics treated patients (who for this study, were actors). “We redesigned the ambulance and then got another set of paramedics to come in and see how they used the space differently,” says Benger. The team also looked at the spread of contamination around the vehicle using a dye and showed how an efficient layout with dressings and other equipment close at hand, could reduce the spread of bacteria.

Building an ambulance demonstrator provided the team with a springboard to secure funding from the EU to work on a European-wide project. The aim now is to feed this into ambulance design across Europe, encourage mass production and, therefore, bring unit cost down (in England each ambulance currently costs the NHS up to £60,000). Thanks to this ongoing research, the service has already seen some improvements in joint procurement of ambulances in the UK. Other incorporated suggestions from the team’s work include ambulance services placing stretcher trolleys in the middle of their vehicles, which means greater paramedic mobility and access to the patient. “Fewer people going to hospital because you have delivered more treatment at the scene is good for the system,” says Professor Benger.  “If it’s a safer ambulance, then there are lower risks of picking up infections too.”

Enabling people with disabilities: using innovation to provide cycling mobility

Enabling people with disabilities: using innovation to provide cycling mobility

In 2013 Bob Griffin was ushered through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The entrepreneur who set up Tomcat, a company in the south west, was there to collect his Queen’s award for Enterprise in Innovation. The company manufactures trikes for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities, whether learning, visual or physical.

Based near Gloucester, Tomcat is known for its bespoke trikes, the unique design of which means carers accompanying the rider can control the vehicle from behind using a steering and braking lever.

Just a year after shaking hands with the monarch, Bob was looking to design a new wheelchair product called ‘Sunfly’ and was successful in receiving a grant through the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) scheme, which supports SMEs in the South West to develop innovative products.

Inspired by families whose children sometimes became severely disabled because of illnesses like meningitis, Sunfly has multiple purposes. Due to launch in 2017, users can modulate it to allow a child to nap, eat, and sit in different positions. Its clever design means the structure can house various types of specialised seats and can be broken down into separate, easily transportable parts. Sunfly also doubles as a trailer to carry a child behind a bicycle.

The R&D took over a year, as there was an intense focus on safety. “Turning Sunfly into reality was a real challenge, but without UWE Bristol’s I4G funding, it would have been even more difficult and perhaps unachievable,” says Bob.

The story of Tomcat goes back 20 years. Bob’s stepson, Tom, had severe learning difficulties and was keeping the adults awake at night because of surplus energy he was unable to expend during the day. Although Tom had a trike, it was hard to control and so it gathered dust in the shed.

Bob, at the time a Merchant Navy engineer, realised tricycles were very basic. “In terms of blindness, learning difficulties or spatial awareness, there was nothing out there,” says Bob. While on a posting, he used the ship’s workshop to build a system to add onto Tom’s existing trike. Tom and his mother, Anne, were delighted.

Usually Tom would walk for 100 yards and get bored but, thanks to the trike, Anne could control it from behind and he was able to ride up to three miles. “To see him achieve that was quite emotional,” recalls Bob. After a subsequent visit to the school Tom attended, other parents asked Bob to build trikes for their own children.

Two decades later Tomcat products (the firm’s name is derived from his stepson’s name) are as popular as ever. Bob is now developing new products thanks in part to a second round of funding from UWE Bristol’s I4G. The grant is helping with the development of both an adult trike and a semi-recumbent tricycle. The products will target those with mild sight, balance and age-related difficulties, as well as people with profound and multiple disabilities.  A major feature of the new machines will be the way they enable users to get on and off more easily.

The semi-recumbent trike, due for release in February 2017, will be more upright, with higher seating and a straighter back than competitors’ products. Another objective will be to incorporate a swivel, or height-adjustable saddle, on the pedal vehicles.

Of course developing these products has once again presented Bob with a number of challenges, like how to achieve greater transportability with such a large machine. Again, support through UWE Bristol’s I4G programme will help him overcome those issues.

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Bob Griffin, Tomcat, meeting the Queen in 2013

To find out more about Tomcat please visit their website: http://tomcatspecialneeds.co.uk/